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Equity and Access
in Mathematics Education

"Equity and Access in Mathematics Education" was the subject of an EXTEND Roundtable held on May 16, 1996 at the Charles A. Dana Center for Mathematics and Science Education at the University of Texas at Austin. This Roundtable provided a forum for teachers, administrators, employers, educational researchers, and university faculty to discuss questions concerning equity and access in mathematics education in the context of rapidly changing state and local policy. Sentiments that emerged from this Roundtable are summarized in the following report. Individual statements from some of the participants are given in subsequent sections.

For decades mathematics has served as the "critical filter" to advanced education and high paying jobs. Yet the record shows that this career pathway has rarely worked as it should for women or for Hispanics, African-Americans, and many other minorities. Mathematics has been, and to a great extent still is, a power tool wielded primarily by white males.

Texas, in May 1996, was an ideal locale for a discussion of issues of equity and access, since only a month before a district court had ruled against the affirmative action programs at the University of Texas. The nation is now engaged in widespread debate about the rationale, value, and purpose of special programs to enhance opportunities for disadvantaged minorities. These debates touch mathematics education profoundly, and reveal deep and often conflicting convictions about the nature of mathematics education and, indeed, of mathematics itself.

Only a few of these important issues were covered in the Texas Roundtable. Discussion centered on a series of questions posed in advance to participants. Three key themes emerged in the discussion:

The tone of importance and urgency was set by an African American mathematics teacher who saw minority kids failing the Texas state assessment (TAAS) test in droves. "Where's the moral outcry? Why don't people do something? Parents today seem only concerned with 'me and my kids.'" For these participants, at least, their answer was clear: equity means outcomes; action requires leadership; and teachers must believe that their students can learn.

To add your voice to this discussion, e-mail comments, letters, and op-ed articles to: extend@stolaf.edu or click here if your Web browser is set up for e-mail.

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Last Update: 07/06/96